Drought management

Wednesday, 4 July 2012 00:37 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

An estimated 150,000 acres of paddy will be affected by the ongoing drought and thousands of people will be directly affected by their crops failing. The numbers that are filtering through are shocking and causing worries not only for the Government but the public in general.

The drought has resulted in hydro electricity generation dropping to all-time lows and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) having to foot a bill of Rs. 200 million every day. Despite the numerous discussions and an appointment of a committee by President Mahinda Rajapaksa there is little clear indication of what steps the Government will take to provide relief to drought victims.

The results of the drought could be felt next year as well for if the paddy harvest fails it is possible that there will be inadequate stocks for consumption once the present stockpiles have been consumed. This together with a rapidly dropping rupee could result in another increase in the cost of living.

While news of the drought was being reported there was also news of pending elections, for which the Government has already released Rs. 600 million. Considering the crisis that is looming the more judicial step may have been to funnel some of the election funds into helping thousands of people that are struggling to find enough water to survive. Ironically the North Central Province, which is bearing the brunt of the drought, will have elections later this year.

Cynics might point out that Government handouts at drought time might have the ulterior motive of gaining votes. Indeed when this was suggested at a recent Cabinet briefing, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwells admitted that the Government would be “political donkeys” not to make the most of the situation.

Politics aside the immediate and long term response to drought in Sri Lanka has been scratchy at best. Often aid is sporadic and selective with farmers getting only a fraction of the assistance that they need. In most instances they are left to fend for themselves after the initial hue and cry dies out in the media. Moreover, in terms to ensuring that long term solutions take effect, the Government’s policy seems to be the Moragahakanda dam. At first glance this may make sense but the loan for this tank alone is in excess of US$ 385 dollars to a Chinese company and if the drought area spreads Moragahakanda itself may dry out.

Sustainable solutions need to incorporate environmentally friendly practices as well. Rainwater harvesting for example is one way of providing assistance at grassroots level, another is introducing paddy types that are less reliant on water and therefore resistant in drought conditions. Such alternatives need to be systematically developed by the Government during non-crisis times. Protecting such research facilities and not building airports on them would also be a good move.

At the present moment it is clear that the State juggernaut needs to get a move on and provide assistance to people with the help of the rest of the public. Average people would be more motivated to donate and volunteer if they felt certain that their contribution would reach the farmers. The government needs to keep the assistance mechanism transparent to prevent corruption and efficient to make sure that the help reaches the right people on time. It is time to give help to those that need it most.